Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions

Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions

A sharp and entertaining essay collection about the importance of multiple forms of love and friendship in a world designed for couples, from a laser-precise new voice.Sometimes it seems like there are two American creeds, self-reliance and marriage, and neither of them is mine. I experience myself as someone formed and sustained by others' love and patience, by student lo...

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Title:Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions
Author:Briallen Hopper
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Hard to Love: Essays and Confessions Reviews

  • Briallen Hopper

    The best book I've ever written!

  • James Steichen

    I’ve been reading Briallen Hopper’s insightful prose for many years, and I’m excited to see all of her best work in one beautiful volume.

    Imagine if an Anne-of-Green-Gables-esque young woman grew up in late twentieth-century Washington state, wrote a dissertation on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and James Baldwin, had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from cocktails to the Golden Girls, and went on to teach at Yale and Queens College. And she can play the piano! But she’s a real person!

    Absolute must-r

    I’ve been reading Briallen Hopper’s insightful prose for many years, and I’m excited to see all of her best work in one beautiful volume.

    Imagine if an Anne-of-Green-Gables-esque young woman grew up in late twentieth-century Washington state, wrote a dissertation on Uncle Tom’s Cabin and James Baldwin, had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from cocktails to the Golden Girls, and went on to teach at Yale and Queens College. And she can play the piano! But she’s a real person!

    Absolute must-reads are her definitive essay on The Fault in Our Stars and her magisterial (no other word suffices) reexamination of the concept of the spinster.

  • Emma Eisenberg

    If Carrie Bradshaw were v much smarter, more intersectional & more anti-racist & capitalist, this might be the book she'd write. We are in need of all the narratives about lives that do not proceed along a coupling, marriage, & baby track & Hopper's are better than most. I particularly appreciated the way she leaves open the space for both/and and neither/nor, ala "Sometimes it seems like there are two American creeds, self-reliance and marriage, and neither of them is mine." 10/

    If Carrie Bradshaw were v much smarter, more intersectional & more anti-racist & capitalist, this might be the book she'd write. We are in need of all the narratives about lives that do not proceed along a coupling, marriage, & baby track & Hopper's are better than most. I particularly appreciated the way she leaves open the space for both/and and neither/nor, ala "Sometimes it seems like there are two American creeds, self-reliance and marriage, and neither of them is mine." 10/10 would binge again

  • Keri Walsh

    What could happen if we declared and even celebrated our mutual dependency on our friends and siblings, or on our church, work, political and other communities? What if we acknowledged the deep meaning we derive from our feelings for the books and movies and television that are most dear to us, or even the love we have for our most honored possessions? This book suggests that all of these kinds of undersung love can offer us nourishing alternatives to the two paths most often celebrated in Ameri

    What could happen if we declared and even celebrated our mutual dependency on our friends and siblings, or on our church, work, political and other communities? What if we acknowledged the deep meaning we derive from our feelings for the books and movies and television that are most dear to us, or even the love we have for our most honored possessions? This book suggests that all of these kinds of undersung love can offer us nourishing alternatives to the two paths most often celebrated in American life: rugged individualism and marrying off. Hard to Love begins with an essay called “Lean On” that is an insightful takedown of the value of Emersonian self-reliance, an essay that is both deeply funny and a persuasive rallying cry for honoring all of these different kinds of relationships. Hopper embodies “Self-Reliance” in the person of her grad school boyfriend (at the end of her long and ultimately disappointing romance with this broad-shouldered Californian rugged individualist, she begins to learn the key lesson of this book: "Rather than resting all my weight on one unreliable man, I began to spread myself out. I learned to practice mutual, broadly distributed leaning: to depend on care that was neither compulsory nor conditional, and on lavish, unrationed, unanticipated kindness.")

    What I love best about Hopper’s essays is that they combine spiritual wisdom and encouragement (she is a preacher), eloquence (she is a writing teacher), astute cultural criticism (she has a Ph.D. in American literature from Princeton), and a deeply endearing comic, self-effacing glamour (she is a red-lipstick and faux-fur wearing diva in the Mae West/Anita Loos/Dorothy Parker/Ma Rainey tradition). She writes about all kinds of things—her personal pantheon of objects and experiences that embody the kind of leaning she celebrates: the Women’s March, the sitcoms Cheers and The Golden Girls, baking for her students, forming part of a care team for a friend with cancer, her large family (she is part of a group of creative sisters reminiscent of Austen, Brontë, Alcott). The funniest essays in the collection, like “How to Be Single,” are the kind of pieces you want to circulate gleefully on Facebook because everyone needs to read them; the most profound, like the one on reading Flannery O’Connor’s prayer journals with a friend facing terminal illness, are the kind you want to turn to when facing your own darkest nights of the soul.

    Hopper knows herself well and harbors few illusions. She looks at things as honestly as she can, even when looking is painful—she does not hide from her own vulnerabilities or her privileges-- but still she transforms and lifts everything up in the light of her empathy and endless fascination and her wit.

    Some books I might compare this to are: Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Samantha Irby’s We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and Lindy West’s Shrill. Like these books, Hopper’s writing is intimate, entertaining, absent of clichés (she would never let herself sink into one), and a balm for life’s scariest moments as well as its more mundane ones. She writes about navigating the plot of a woman’s life after having “missed the boat” (for whatever variety of reasons) of marriage, home ownership, and children—she takes us on journeys involving roommates and sperm donation clinics and precarious jobs, all buoyed by relationships with friends that only deepen as she realizes how much she honors these bonds and how sturdy they are.

    I should confess that the author is a close friend of mine. Together we’ve slumber-party-watched The Best Years of Our Lives and Desk Set and co-baked Sylvia Plath’s Tomato Soup Cake recipe. We’ve been students in grad seminars together, taught together, and are now members of the same beloved writing group. Sharing this review feels like a tribute to the kind of “leaning on” described in Hard to Love. In Bri’s book the voices and names and stories of her friends are everywhere. As one of them, let me say say how glad I am that inspiration to practice the art and religion of “leaning on,” whether over cocktails or hospital beds, will extend beyond her immediate circle—welcome to the Briallen Hopper lifestyle! (soundtrack by Rodgers and Hart).

  • KayW4

    Full disclosure: I know the author, and I am mentioned in the acknowledgements (thanks Bri!). And let me tell you what an enormous relief it is that I am able to review this book after all. Because I decided a long time ago that I wouldn't review books by people I know if I don't love them (the books, I mean - although I suppose it often applies to the authors too). It's a little like writing recommendation letters for students (which I do frequently); unless I can honestly rave about them, it's

    Full disclosure: I know the author, and I am mentioned in the acknowledgements (thanks Bri!). And let me tell you what an enormous relief it is that I am able to review this book after all. Because I decided a long time ago that I wouldn't review books by people I know if I don't love them (the books, I mean - although I suppose it often applies to the authors too). It's a little like writing recommendation letters for students (which I do frequently); unless I can honestly rave about them, it's not appropriate for me to be writing their recommendation, and it's better to leave it to somebody else better qualified to get that rave in. And then thank everything holy I read "Hard to Love" and completely and utterly adored it.

    "Hard to Love" is a mix of essays written directly for the publication of this book, and texts published in various journals and magazines in the last decade. One of the standouts of the former variety is her essay on the TV show Cheers called "Everything You've Got." It's not your usual snarky pop culture-savvy breakdown of how and why and show appeals to us in a particular moment. Instead, it's a loving (but not uncritical!) engagement with a show that, through its heightened depiction of class in urban America, weirdly enough managed to say something profound about heterosexual romance. And vice versa. It's the essay that I think stands out in the collection as a showcase of just what a phenomenal writer we've got in Hopper.

    But let's be honest. What readers will take from this book isn't what Hopper has to say about TV, hoarding, or Emerson, or Flannery O'Connor. It's the almost breathtaking honesty with which she chronicles her life experiences and weaves them in to her thoughts on TV, hoarding Emerson, and Flannery O'Connor - and so much more. It's not a perfect book, of course. I imagine those English-language readers who are not American in origin or current residence might feel the usual frustration at the lumping together of "life" experiences/problems (manifestations of religion, racism, classism and so on) and "modern North American" experiences. But it's a smart and sensitive enough book that unlike in many of the other countless instances in which one encounters this assumption, it's very hard to fault this one in particular, because it's just too darn good. And somehow the alchemy which shouldn't work does work - it really DOES matter to your dating life (while in grad school at least) if your prospective mate refuses to give up on the ideals of a douchebag like Ralph Waldo Emerson. It's not "academic" or "literary" - I mean it's both those, but it's also real life. That intertwinedness - of singing the praises of leaning on people (while subtly throwing an enormous amount of shade on Sheryl Sandberg's ludicrous "Lean In" concept while never once mentioning it or her by name), while talking about having to wear adult diapers of a certain brand name because of her recent surgery... it's the way Hopper makes those two things so interconnected in an organic and genuine way that's a deeply impressive feat. And it makes for a moving, wise, roller-coaster (of many kinds) read.

  • Thomas

    In some ways I feel like I have waited for this essay collection all my life. In

    , Briallen Hopper rejects the rigid dichotomy so often enforced in society: marry your romantic partner and live happily ever after, or grow old and die alone. Hopper trail blazes a courageous newer path, where she finds connection and love with her close friends. She also celebrates other underappreciated forms of love, like love of writing and art and love between siblings. I so appreciated how Hopper

    In some ways I feel like I have waited for this essay collection all my life. In

    , Briallen Hopper rejects the rigid dichotomy so often enforced in society: marry your romantic partner and live happily ever after, or grow old and die alone. Hopper trail blazes a courageous newer path, where she finds connection and love with her close friends. She also celebrates other underappreciated forms of love, like love of writing and art and love between siblings. I so appreciated how Hopper shows the messiness of these relationships, like the turmoil she experienced with her friend Cathy when she moved in with her, or how her bond with her brother grew distant in part because of their differing religious and political beliefs. Above all, Hopper's writing flows with intelligence and a willingness to unpack assumptions. Her compassion for herself, her friends, and her family shine clear. One quote about chosen family that made my heart grow warm:

    I feel like I have waited for these essays all my life because I write about the glorification of romance and my love for my friends on

    all the freaking time. Just last week I texted one of my close friends A that I wish I saw examples of women and femmes who basked in their singleness and close friends, because I often only see people enmeshed in romantic relationships or single people desperate to escape singlehood.

    Through herself in

    , Hopper offers that example of a woman finding love with her friends and her writing. Two of the essays toward the start of the collection, "Lean On" and "On Spinsters," blew me away with the depth of their insight. "Lean On" acts as a radical defense of relying on others, especially outside of romantic relationships, in a society that encourages self-reliance and detachment. "On Spinsters" serves as an ode to single women and those throughout history who have built loving relationships outside the government-sanctioned institution of marriage. These two essays worked their way into my heart and into the list of top essays I have ever read with ease. A short paragraph from

    that wowed me (one of many):

    Hopper covers so much amazing ground in terms of writing that centers friendship and other forms of non-romantic intimacy. She writes about how she and a group of friends formed a care team for their friend who got diagnosed with cancer and did not have a partner to rely on. She shares, with great vulnerability and sincerity, about her search for sperm so she can have a child without a traditional romance in tow. She analyzes a show she loves,

    unpacking its dynamics of romance and friendship and what works and does not work within a feminist framework. These essays showcase Hopper's versatility as a writer. They highlight how writers have so much ground to cover outside of romance, a radical notion for women and femmes in particular.

    I would recommend these essays to absolutely everyone, especially those who also want to nurture love in friendship and in other non-romantic forms. The collection is perhaps not perfect - I felt that some of the essays toward the end (e.g., "The Stars") could have benefited from a firmer thematic connection to the other essays. I also wish Hopper had done more to unpack her white, cis privilege in her essay on the Women's March, as she did a fabulous job of doing so in her essay "The Foundling Museum." Still, I cherished this collection so much and am grateful for the feminist ideas and genuine love it contributes to the literary canon. An excellent essay collection that I hope helps others appreciate and cultivate their own many types of love.

  • Cara

    I so enjoyed the company of this book.

  • Cat

    This book is not hard to love; indeed, I found it impossible not to love and barely possible to put down. Then I hesitated before the last chapter because I was so sad to leave the essayist's company. I have a list in the notebook I carry around everywhere of all the women friends I'd like to send it to. I was so sad that it ended that I'm looking forward to a lingering reread already, not to mention to following Hopper's career from here on out.

    It's an unassuming book--a collection of essays, m

    This book is not hard to love; indeed, I found it impossible not to love and barely possible to put down. Then I hesitated before the last chapter because I was so sad to leave the essayist's company. I have a list in the notebook I carry around everywhere of all the women friends I'd like to send it to. I was so sad that it ended that I'm looking forward to a lingering reread already, not to mention to following Hopper's career from here on out.

    It's an unassuming book--a collection of essays, many of which were originally book reviews or literary blog posts: chapters about her family and friends, her favorite films, beloved writers. But the cumulative force of Hopper's voice, which is by turns erudite and funny, confiding and critical, makes the collection sing as an ode to friendship; to communities beyond the nuclear family; to women's abilities and intimacies; to writing as a search both for self-expression and for the sacred. Each sentence is so beautifully shaped without being belabored; it seems effortless yet can't be, given that elegance. She is clear-sighted in her view of herself and her own complicity in some of the most complicated and painful relationships and experiences she has had, yet she practices capacious forgiveness, both of others and of herself, recognizing the contribution even of the people we love and lose to our life stories and our worldview.

    Some of my favorite essays in the collection were about mid-century women writers Grace Metalious (the close reading of her Peyton Place author photo may be the new opening to my graduate course on twentieth-century US women writers) and Shirley Jackson (one of my all-time favorites). In another essay, Hopper describes the barbed closeness between sisters, lambasting the saccharine depiction of the same relation in the Tina Fey and Amy Poehler movie

    . By way of J. D. Salinger, she writes about her lifelong debates with her estranged brother; in another chapter (one near and dear to my heart), she writes about baking as shared solace, and I can't wait to make her vegan chocolate cupcakes recipe with the decidedly not-vegan peanut butter cream cheese icing. Her consideration of Cheers and its presentation of class dynamics and midlife despair is a triumph. It is a pleasure to follow the way her mind works, wending in one direction until you think you see the culmination of that train of thought, and then turning self-critically in another direction in order to expand the view.

    Growing up in a large evangelical family, Hopper has had life experiences far afield from my own, and yet I recognized intimately so many of her feelings and observations. This is the gift of the personal essayist, to draw from the idiosyncrasy of experience insights that shape many lives, not merely her own. In divinity school, Hopper helped care for a close friend who had esophageal cancer; her chapters on writing letters to Flannery O'Connor (as well as prayers) and on serving as a member of the care team are beautiful reflections on the body and vulnerability, the importance of friendship and the ubiquity of crisis. The structure of her essays shifts unobtrusively yet compellingly from chapter to chapter; for example, her chapter on her reproductive struggles is brilliantly framed by the game DICK, a riff on Cards Against Humanity that uses Melville quotations to answer life questions with double entendres.

    A collector of tea cups, a baker of gingerbread, and lover of pastel Victorian houses, Hopper celebrates, like Gwendolyn Brooks does in

    , a novella she writes about beautifully here, the aesthetics of the everyday. She recognizes the beauty in our rough edges, our inevitable incompletion, and she celebrates the process of writing as a way of honoring that longing for, and sometime achievement of, connection.

  • Sraah

    this helped me a lot when i needed it most. so many quotes really stood out to me. this book gave me strength in myself that kept trying to hide its face from my own self. i also really enjoyed learning about Cheers.

    "The paradox was that my newfound self-reliance was a symptom of my utter reliance on him. I depended on his demand that I not depend. I leaned on not leaning on him. The irony was he left me anyway."

    "I was ashamed that I needed him emotionally and existentially in ways he didn’t see

    this helped me a lot when i needed it most. so many quotes really stood out to me. this book gave me strength in myself that kept trying to hide its face from my own self. i also really enjoyed learning about Cheers.

    "The paradox was that my newfound self-reliance was a symptom of my utter reliance on him. I depended on his demand that I not depend. I leaned on not leaning on him. The irony was he left me anyway."

    "I was ashamed that I needed him emotionally and existentially in ways he didn’t seem to need me."

    "And I was ashamed of my willingness to settle for a love life in which my desire to twine like a vine was constantly thwarted by a man who was always carefully disentangling himself from my tendrils and tentacles."

    "I was a leaning willow, and when my man could and did detach himself from me, I learned that leaning willows , unlike mighty oaks, are built to withstand quakes and storms. They can bend almost to the ground without breaking."

    "Even our faults and flaws can become bearable when mediated through the eyes of others, since our closest friends can show us the awful sides of ourselves that we would never have seen, but in ways that sharpen us instead of wearing us away."

    "“Codependence” is a beautiful word that could mean mutual support but instead means mutual harm."

    "Leaning, or being leaned on, can make one feel luscious, melting, known, held, solid, suspended, steely, light. It can also make one feel used, worn out, weak, diminished, infantilized, guarded, sick, spent. Leaning can be love."

    "Maybe I was breaking down, but I also broke through."

    "I still don’t ever want to let things go, but now I know that I can."

  • Camelia Rose

    Briallen Hopper writes about her relationship with female friends and sisters. She writes about writers, books and TV shows. Above of all, she writes about women. Reading it is like talking to your long term friend who is a compassionate and intelligent, even though our background can not be more different. Like her, I too value female friendship highly. Like her, I did in the past attempt to revive a dead friendship.

    My favorite essays in this collection:

    --

    Briallen Hopper writes about her relationship with female friends and sisters. She writes about writers, books and TV shows. Above of all, she writes about women. Reading it is like talking to your long term friend who is a compassionate and intelligent, even though our background can not be more different. Like her, I too value female friendship highly. Like her, I did in the past attempt to revive a dead friendship.

    My favorite essays in this collection:

    --

    (I like to lean too. Mutual dependence is the necessity for a friendship)

    --

    (Very sharp, very thoughtful)

    --

    (Collecting small objects as memory reminders is what I do all the time. Totally understand why she feels giving up things is like abandoning pieces of your past; yes, even best friends need to maintain boundary, but true friends will make it up eventually.)

    --

    (sisters may be your best friends and worst enemies, but they will take you in when nobody else will)

    --

    --

    --

    --

    Quotes:

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